Fear is Good

I made a presentation earlier this week on using social media to build brand awareness and drive sales for the Northern California Business Marketing Association. I don’t do a lot of these and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It could have been a room full of marketing gurus and social media skeptics, ready to challenge my every assumption. Or it could have been a room seeded with know-it-alls ready to countermand my every point.

It turned out that the turnout was small, but very friendly, and we sat around a table over breakfast to review my ideas and discuss how to apply social media in practical situations that related to their business and their clients. Still, the experience of public speaking or performance is always daunting,even to the most seasoned professionals. Which reminded me that fear is good – it helps you dig down and find your best insights and promotes peak performance.

I actually ran across two blog posts this week about fear, which I found serendipitous. Peter Shankman of HARO fame posted a blog entry about “Using Your Fear to Create Awesomeness.” As we all know, fear is a very primitive instinct that kept early man from being devoured by saber-toothed tigers or trampled by mastodons. These days our fears seem much more mundane as we have redefined our fears about survival so we ignore the venomous snakes in the zoos and instead focus on the institutional snakes threatening us with unemployment and bankruptcy. Still, fear is a motivator that can drive excellence.

Peter Shankman may be the poster boy for using fear to drive excellence. Every time I check his blog he seems to be preparing for another ironman competition or getting ready to jump out of an airplane. He understands how to harness adrenaline. He understands that while most of us seek comfort and complacency and try to avoid fear, when it’s properly harnessed, fear gives you an edge.  As the saying goes, pressure makes diamonds.

Carol Tice also was blogging about fear this week. She offered some practical tips on how freelance writers can banish or take control of their fear. Some of her advice is useful to all of us. For example, she notes you need to get perspective and place whatever you are afraid of in a larger context – “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Lighten up, because a lot of fear comes from taking yourself too seriously. Get rid of the negative beliefs and be positive, because you can accomplish tasks that at first seem impossible if you believe.

So standing up and addressing a group about a topic shouldn’t be scary, especially if you are confident about your subject matter. It’s similar to making a pitch to a tough prospective client can be scary; if you believe in yourself and your expertise and have passion then you can easily overcome fear. Use your fear as a barometer to see if you can stretch yourself. If a task or project feels uncomfortable and you fear failure, then break it down into its basic components and understand what you really can accomplish. You’ll drive yourself to achieve so much more.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt so succinctly stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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